Since the very beginning of the Star Trek franchise, there has been a visible diversity in the cast. The show was the first to display an interracial kissing scene during its original run in the 1960s. As I sit through a Star Trek: Discovery marathon, a new element of the cast’s diversity is noticeable. It leads me to draw interesting parallels between the fictional world of the 23rd century and my world today.
The show takes place a decade before the events of the original Star Trek series. It is centered on the Federation and Klingon war and focuses on the role played by the USS Discovery’s crew in the war. Soneqa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, the first black female protagonist of the show. Her love interest is portrayed by Shahzad Latif, a British-Pakistani actor, who plays Voq/Ash Tyler in the show.
Being Pakistani myself, this is an interesting development. Even in the 21st century, dating or “liking” a person from another race or ethnicity is controversial in South Asian society. But the heart does indeed want what it wants. I know some friends and family members who have dared to date a person from another nationality or race. In most cases, the relationships stay hidden. If they come to light at all, the family is doomed, because “what will people think?” This is followed by social and cultural issues, the cutting off of family ties and estrangements.
If, in rare cases, families are accepting of interracial relationships, there is the added expectation of the other partner being “gori” (white) or ‘angraizi’ (English speaking). Ergo, the interracial relationship of Michael and Ash Tyler, came with a cherry on top: a person of color dating another person of color—something rarely seen in TV shows today. Imagine that!
While I did not miss the male-centric cast of Star Trek and inelastic leadership roles for women in such shows, what caught my interest was an issue that is personal, current and rarely talked about in society. The fact that the show is designed in such a way that interracial relationships in a fictional universe are perceived as normal is a good omen to me. It is symbolic of the hope that if not today, then someday, interracial relationships will not be prohibited and controversial both amongst traditionally South Asian people, as well as in other cultures across the globe.